I was asked by a friend to write something that normally would not have been a topic of choice, an area that feels very exposing. However, if I truly believe in integrity and transparency, I need to pull open the blinds of a challenge shared by many.
It all starts with volunteering… something I believe strongly in, not out of a sense of duty, but because I want to, and I know how rewarding it can be when you find the right fit.
The cause I am currently engaged with is the Canadian Mental Health Association; I believe in the work CMHA does, I can relate to the issues they deal with, and the folks at our local association deeply care about what they do, and who they do it with.
What do you think of when you hear the term ‘mental health’? Does it make you cringe? Is it something that only affects ‘other’ people? Or does it stir up feelings that are all too real…too close to home. You’re not alone! The specific area that I’m engaged with is mental health in the workplace, an issue that is very real to employers and employees alike. Did you know that everyday in Canada; over 500,000 people miss work due to mental health issues? That’s huge! Think of the impact those absentees have on the individual, their families, their co-workers, their organizations! And yes, the cost to business is in the neighbourhood of $33 billion each year. Take a read through this sobering Maclean’s article. These are people we rub shoulders with on a daily basis…and many of us are one of those people.
It doesn’t matter what you call it; stress, anxiety, burn-out…it’s the pile up of demands (personal, professional), expectations (others and our own), deadlines, conflicts, pressures that get us to the point of _______ … you finish the sentence. For me it looks like heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and an inability to make even the simplest of decisions.
As a training and development professional and business professor, I speak with many people who feel like an elastic band that’s about to snap; these people are from a variety of industries, representing all generations, are male and female, formally educated (or not), experienced, and capable individuals. CEO’s, leaders, and managers be aware, these are the people who are the very core and life of your organizations…many are even sitting beside you in the boardroom.
CMHA’s Mental Health Voices represents the need for greater awareness to be brought to such matters in the workplace. If you are in a role of people leadership or run a business, this is a cause that begs your attention. If you live in the Okanagan, BC, I would invite you to attend our Mental Health Voices breakfast with Brett Wilson on November 4th. Check out the website www.cmhakelowna.com/mental-health-voices for both information on the event and ticket purchase.
No matter your location, I would invite you to take some time to think through how your place of business could be proactive about this growing area of concern and join the growing crowd of business leaders who are endeavouring to take the stigma out of the mental health issue.
“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”
― Fred Rogers,
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
― Dr. Seuss,
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about expectations; we all have them. We all know the joys of realized expectations and, I believe, it would be accurate to say that we have all felt the pain of unrealized expectations. And yet we continue to approach life with the assumption of certain outcomes. What if instead of having expectations, we adopted an attitude of expectancy?
One of my favourite authors is Mark Buchanan (favourite because he really causes me to stop and ponder!). In his book “The Four Best Places to Live”, Mark describes expectancy this way…
“Expectancy is a renewal of hope and anticipation. It is a spark in the soul that makes you dare to believe that good can come from bad, that light can overcome darkness, that life can resurrect out of death.”
He goes on to say…
“It’s the small but tenacious belief that, in spite of all that has happened in your life and all that has not happened in your life, what is going to happen in your life will redeem it all.”
My oldest granddaughter is a true example of living life with expectancy. Faith’s signature question is ‘What are you excited about today?’ I love it! The anticipation of what’s to come radiates from every part of her being. Our
daughter is also one of those people who loves life and values each and every person who is part of her life. We celebrated her 30th birthday this week (I should say month…Shannon really knows how to embrace any and every reason to celebrate!). We had a lovely chat about what life holds for her as she enters her 30’s; so many amazing possibilities! She could go forward with a list of expectations that may or may not be realized, but instead she chooses to go forward with great expectancy, with a sense of wonder and excitement about what great surprises life holds.
So how does this play out in daily living? For me it applies on so many levels…I think of a whole new group of students who will occupy chairs in my classes this fall, I think of the students on-line that I get to tutor, of those individuals whose lives intersect with mine on a professional level. I also think of the many friends who make up the fabric of my life, and of the incredible family my husband and I have been blessed with. I could go on!
Buchanan states that the opposite of expectancy is expectations; so yes, I must admit that the above list of people at times are burdened by my unreasonable expectations. Time to make a change there!
What will the new fall expectancy approach look like? Refreshing, hopeful, appreciation, excitement, letting go. Let me finish with another nugget from Buchanan…
“Expectation almost always sets us up to be disappointed, and once disappointment sets in, it quickly hardens into apathy, bitterness, and suspicion. Expectancy, on the other hand, sets us up to be thrilled. When we live in an attitude of expectancy, we’re rarely disappointed. Expectation says, “This specific thing must happen for me to welcome it.” But when we live in the House of Expectancy, we say, “Something good is going to happen—I’m not sure what—and I’m here to welcome it.”
What’s your favorite question to ask? For me it’s why? That’s it. It’s been the same question just about all of my life.
I find that it brings the greatest critical thinking challenges to me as I continue to work in the field of training and development. For most of my growing up years people told me what to do, I’m sure your experience was similar… we get an education and are advised what to take, then we start a career and learn the job with new rules and processes…sadly, asking why isn’t always encouraged!
This was the case until I was finally asked the question WHY DO YOU DO YOU WHAT YOU DO? What’s your purpose on this earth? Someone finally turned the table on me!
Let me ask you, have you ever written a personal mission statement? It asks the why of your life. I was at a leadership staff retreat a number of years ago when I was asked what my personal mission was …not only had no one ever asked me such a big why question…I had no answer for them. Thus started a grueling exercise of discover…and decision! The end result was…
I want to be about equipping and encouraging others to realize their full potential.
This guided my thinking and actions in every leadership role I took on.
Over the past while I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between being a leader and being a teacher. I tend to believe that not only are they connected, but being one compels us to also be the other. So if this is true…we need to consider what kind of leader-teachers we should be.
Take a few minutes to consider this connection and perhaps open the door to look at teaching…and our post-secondary classrooms, from another perspective.
John Kotters describes leadership this way…
“Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen, despite the obstacles.”
Can we see a connection to teaching?
Learner centred teaching is all about putting the focus on what the learner needs in order for them to be successful. Consider how similar this is to servant leadership:
“Putting the needs, interests and goals of others above your own and using your personal gifts to help others achieve their potential.”
Is there a connection here to teaching?
Our purpose should be to do all we can to help our students be successful.
Let’s assume that we are on the right track here. We all know that learning looks different for each student…the variables are endless.
So flashing back to leadership, what we are discussing is the type of leadership made popular by Blanchard and Hersey…Situational leadership. We know that this is a contingency approach that basically means IT DEPENDS. It depends on the readiness of the follower…the leader adapts his/her leadership style based on the needs of the person being lead.
- Telling– Leaders tell their people what to do and how to do it.
- Selling– Leaders provide information and direction, but there’s more communication with followers.
- Participating – Leaders focus more on the relationship and less on direction. Decision making is shared with followers.
- Delegating – Leaders pass most of the responsibility onto the follower or group. http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_44.htm
Can we connect these styles or stages to teaching?
Let me ask one final question…Can you view yourself as a leader in the classroom? If so, what kind of leader do you want to be?
In preparing to teach a leadership class recently, I came across this question:
If it is immoral to prevent those around you from growing to their fullest potential, are you being moral?
In other words, as a leader/teacher, am I doing all I can to help those around me to grow to their fullest potential? Hmmm!
Right now I’m sitting in a new little restaurant in Kelowna called Gratitude. Recently opened, it’s claim to fame is a menu that is gluten free, vegan, and safe for most allergies. Limited…but oh so tasty! I feel healthier just sitting here. My order…spicy root veggie soup and a toasted carrot bun with coconut butter. Very delicious.
When the server/owner delivered it to me, the salutation, ‘you are lovely and awesome’ was declared. That took me a little aback…to my shame, the first thought that came to mind was ‘now that’s a little phony…they probably say that to everyone.’ But then I thought, ‘so what if they do, how many people never get to hear those sentiments from anyone?’ Yup, slapped my own hand for that one.
So how does this connect with potential? Glad you asked. Let me guide you through my thought process. One of the courses I’m teaching this semester to third year business students is Leadership; I’m very excited to be working with these future leaders! In the first class we discussed the concept of leadership and explored the experiences of each person…interesting and often inspiring. One of the resources we included in the course pack is a Harvard Business Review called ‘Harnessing the Science of Persuasion’ by Robert B. Cialdini. The article summary states,
“No leader can succeed without mastering the art of persuasion. But there’s hard science in that skill, too, and a large body of psychological research suggests there are six basic laws of winning friends and influencing people.”
The article is adamant that this persuasion must be done in an ethical manner, and that mastery of the 6 Principles outlined can bring ‘scientific rigor to the business of securing consensus, cutting deals, and winning concessions.’
In class we watched a YouTube version of the article, and then spent time discussing it.
What we summarized from the discussion is that leaders need to setthe stage and create a reason for why people should follow them. The obvious danger is the ease with which a leader could cross over the line into manipulation…one good reason why the article stresses the need for ethical action and behaviour.
So, back to potential. I can see potential in my students, or in those I have been privileged to mentor, but if there isn’t a connection, if they don’t like me, they are less likely to give any credence to any suggestions I may offer for their growth and development. The same thing applies to any group of people or team you may lead…do they see evidence of the 6 principles demonstrated through your actions? Do you make it easy for them to follow you, or do you create barriers that in the long run will limit the positive influence you could have in their professional and personal lives?
While I initially felt like the greeting I received with lunch was phony, it did make me stop and think. If she really did know me would those be the words she would use to describe me; if not, would she maybe see the potential in me to come along side and help me grow into a person worthy of such a greeting?
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Have you ever witnessed someone realizing their potential? It is so exciting! Let me share an experience with you.
I had a student in one of my classes a couple of years ago. She was an exchange student from Asia and was totally overwhelmed with the whole Canadian education experience. Susan, (not her real name of course), was in her early twenties and had never been more than a few kilometres from home before this adventure.
Susan missed the first couple classes, so was already behind before she even started. After her first class I noticed Susan hovering at her desk, taking much longer than necessary to pack up her knapsack…she obviously had something on her mind. I approached and asked how the first class had gone for her. In very broken English, she shared some of the challenges she was experiencing with the language barrier, and wanted to check that I was ok with her using a digital translator. She didn’t want me to think that she was cheating in any way. Once that was talked through I thought we were done…not so. Susan went on to share how shy she was, and that she wasn’t comfortable talking in class, or offering her opinion on anything. In fact, she went on to say that she really didn’t have anything worth sharing anyway. Needless to say my heart went out to her.
Again, Susan didn’t seem to be in a rush to leave, so I decided to put my briefcase down and take a few minutes with this young woman. One of the things I like to do with my students is to ask them to identify their own goals for learning; so I asked Susan. Her answer was so honest…and frightful for her! Her goal was to voluntarily answer one question in class before the end of the term! That’s it, and even voicing it seemed like such a challenge. I assured Susan that I would not pick on her to answer a question that she did not raise her hand for, and that I would watch for her to indicate when she was ready. Susan finally left the classroom looking like a weight had been lifted off her small shoulders.
The next class we were talking about the diversity of cultures in organizations, and the joys and challenges that brings. For one of the activities I invited students to share something unique about their own culture, and describe a little bit about how that uniqueness would impact the workplace. After several students shared I noticed that Susan had raised her hand. Her expression told me that she wanted to take the big step…she was ready…already!
What happened next blew me away. Susan talked for a good three minutes, sharing what life was like in her home country, and how that experience influenced her confidence, or rather lack of confidence, in this brand-new world. She was nervous, but received incredible support from her peers as they listened intently to every word; it was a beautiful thing to witness.
When Susan finished she simply sat down. At the end of class she came up to me, as excited as any child on Christmas morning. The only words she could express were ‘I did it, I did it!’ After the initial exuberance had died down she added ‘And it’s only the beginning of the semester! I reached my goal already.’ Those are the moments that affirm why I love my job!
That day was the first of many with Susan speaking out in class; she even participated in an oral class presentation. When the semester ended, successfully for Susan I might add, I saw a very different young woman leave with determination and intention to return to her home country and encourage other young Asian women to find their voice. Someday I hope to meet up with Susan and hear about the next step in her story.
Helping someone realize their potential does not have to be a major undertaking. At times it’s as simple as being available to listen, and to pay attention to what’s not being said.
Who are the people in your life that just need a listening ear or an encouraging word to move them towards realizing their potential? Look around, they may even be in the room with you right now.
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
― Leo Buscaglia
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It’s been a while since my last blog. There are a couple of reasons for that…not the least of which being absorbed in prep for teaching my business students. One key reason is tied in with the never-ending question regarding what to write about. I can think of lots of things to say when I’m nowhere near a computer (and have just had a great cup of coffee!), or don’t have time to gather the scattered thoughts into some semblance of order. However, when a pause in my schedule presents itself, I still need to find that focus.
As always, inspiration comes from places you least expect. Our son and his family have been on somewhat of a road trip for the past few weeks. His work affords him the privilege of working
from wherever he happens to be…although that in itself presents problems when depending on the strength and availability of Internet connections. (I digress…). On the day they packed up the vehicle to head off on their adventure, my daughter-in-law handed me a class jar with a twig stuck in it and ask that we take care of it. Now, you have to know that our grandkids are home schooled, and are getting the most amazing education imaginable…everything becomes a teachable moment in the family, even the unending collection of ‘nature’. So, when I asked what ‘it’ was, Crystal immediately said, ‘It’s an oak tree’.
After a good chuckle, I had one of those ‘hmmm’ moments. I saw a dried up twig with a couple of pathetic looking leaves clinging for dear life, Crystal saw beyond that to what it would become…a mighty oak tree with potential far greater than what we could even begin to imagine.
I’m passionate about training and development, but for me it goes well beyond the material created or the skills taught…it’s about the outcome; it’s about the people involved in the training and development. The potential is there, it simply needs to be fed, watered, perhaps pruned, and planted in an environment where it will be encouraged to growing into…who knows?
One of the reasons I love teaching and working with young business leaders is because I get to be in on the ground floor of their journey. I have the opportunity to help them see who they are and what they have to offer. I love to see the light bulbs go on as they discover their innate strengths and struggle through the questions of ‘so what?’ I love the challenging questions they present as the result of critically thinking through some theory that makes sense on paper but somehow falls short of what they have already discovered in the work world…and life in general! I love to chat with them after they have completed their first life chapter of formal training, and hear the passion bubble up as they share what’s been happening and the opportunities that they have embraced. I love seeing the ‘twigs’ grow into ‘oak trees’.
All that to say, I found my focus. Potential…plain and simple. It’s all around us, it’s in us, and it’s each of our responsibility to develop. How does that happen? Who are the
people we choose to spend time with to foster that potential? What do we do when ours’, and others’, potential is being squashed? So much to probe and ponder!
“Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.”
― John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
I spent one week this summer facilitating workshops that focused on learner centered instruction. The audience was a group of 22 professors visiting from China who wanted to learn more about what the post secondary classroom looks like in Canada…specifically the learner centered approach. This was an amazing opportunity for which I am so grateful, and hope to do again!
I’ve done a great deal of curriculum designing. As I go through the process, I am always conscious of the fact that the audience represents a variety of knowledge levels and therefore the need to include some form of prior learning assessment is vital. However, the preparation and delivery of this material to our Chinese visitors required that I take all my concepts and explain them in ways that would translate across language. No buzz words, no acronyms, no idioms, and no making assumptions about their frame of reference.
Unfortunately, the reality of this didn’t fully hit until I was in the midst of presenting and realized that the confused looks were not only caused by a language barrier, but also by conceptual differences in how we approach education. For example, discussing the challenges of having young learners (18-22 yrs) and mature learners in the same class made no sense to them…they would never have the ages mixed to start with! I also learned that it was fully acceptable to put your head down and have a nap if you were tired…nothing personal!
I was so thankful that one of the professors was quite fluent in English, so together we navigated the murky waters using all of our senses, including a lot of laughter, to catch a glimpse of what learner centredness is all about. In fact, the whole process became a living example of how we, as facilitators of learning, must focus on the needs of the learner if we are to develop individuals who can think critically, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, and be the creative innovators our institutions and organizations need.
As I reflected on this amazing opportunity my mind wandered down the path of ‘so what?’…so what did this experience teach me that was new, and what actions/attitudes did it reinforce in my own practice? As I probed, here are some of the ponders that emerged…
- Do I sometimes use terminology that is commonplace for me, but far from common to my learners? (This reminded me of words we used growing up in Ireland that weren’t so acceptable to my grade 7 teacher in Canada…think ‘donkey’!)
- Does what I think my learners need to learn match what they want/need to learn for their situation? (Granted, some skills are non-negotiatble & need to be taught.)
- Do I take enough time to gain a clear enough understanding of their context/culture? (A simple thing like properly receiving a business card can build or break a relationship.)
- Am I presenting the material in such a way that they are active participants in their own learning? (…and is the activity appropriate for the learner and desired outcomes?)
- Am I as focused on encouraging self-directed learning, as I am on simply delivering content? (Do we simply give them a fish, or actually teach them how to fish?)
These questions apply whether I am teaching my business students, or facilitating training and development for a group of business professionals.
What are some of your ponderings around this topic?